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Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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Global CIO: 5 Ways Ford's CIO Is Driving Growth

Nick Smither and his team have some ideas worth copying.

IT’s also helping Ford look into the future, to figure out what a generation that has grown up with social networking will want in their vehicles. Even more, they’re thinking of the car as a development platform, one that third-party developers will write to much like they can an iPhone. TJ Giuli, a Ford research engineer with a Stanford PhD in computer science, co-taught a University of Michigan class this spring where students tested that platform by creating apps they’d want in the Fiesta, a compact car just coming to the U.S. The winning app: one that lets people in a multivehicle caravan share info on stops and status.

The IT teams are also bringing more use of simulation technology into product development and manufacturing, and helping share the results across regions— increasingly important as Ford strives to design vehicles once for manufacturing and sales worldwide.

4. Improve collaboration

Ford’s Digital Worker program includes unified communications (Ford was among the earlier mega-companies to embrace voice over IP), lots of WebEx videoconferencing, and growing use of SharePoint.

In a lot of ways, that’s standard-operating-procedure for companies-- it’s rare for a CIO not to have these kinds of collaboration on his or her agenda. It’s using SharePoint for social networking and team project sites. It’s experimenting with Yammer for more informal discussion threads.

What matters is not the tools, but how well IT can map this collaboration effort to a key Ford goal--creating one global organization. That has as much to do with culture as technology. But it won’t get anywhere without an IT platform that makes it possible.

5. Enable mobility

Ford is headed in the right direction with employee mobility. Now it needs to step on the gas. It has a program called e-pod--e-mail on personally owned device--that lets people use their own BlackBerry to access work e-mail. It’s piloting e-pod for iPhones, and looking at Windows Mobile and Symbian platforms.

Smither thinks this will soon be the expectation of most employees, that they can stay connected to work as needed wherever they are. Ford is ahead of a lot of companies by letting people use a personal smartphone for work, at least with BlackBerrys. But people want their iPhones now (and their Android-based phones).

Ford’s on a bit of a roll. Its “didn’t-get-a-bailout” status brought it some new looks, and Ford took advantage by having some fresh new vehicles on its dealers’ lots. IT has only a small part to play in keeping that mo’ going. What matters is that it knows that part very well.

Global CIO small globe Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek.

To find out more about Chris Murphy, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO.

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